« Tortoise Sex and other birthday, uh, gifts | Main | Blurbing »

June 01, 2010

The Secret to Happiness

By Sarah

For a country in which our mission statement clearly states we're supposed to pursue happiness, it seems we Americans are a pretty miserable lot. The DOW is down and, let's face it, won't ever reach the heyday of yesteryear, oil is gushing into the Gulf, we're involved in two wars without end and not even Sex and the City can cure the Mid East Crisis.

Sure, this is enough to get you down - unless you're over seventy.

Sex and the city   According to a study that got lots of airplay thanks to a slow news cycle over Memorial Day weekend, happiness goes by age in a U turn. We start off in our early 20s feeling - as we should - ebullient and invincible. We're young. We're in love. We have energy and a fleeting sense of immortality. Lots of sex. A whole life to anticipate. Naturally, we're happy.

But then happiness diminishes until we're about 50 or so, the bottom of the barrel. As we age from thereon, surprise surprise, our daily joy increases until we're in our 70s and 80s and loving life. Sociologists have no idea why.


Anyone in my age group (I happen to be 47) knows the answer. My husband claims it's because 50 is when you first feel the effects of decreased strength and stamina. Maybe. My women friends say it's because we are no longer young and beautiful. Meh. I never cared that much anyway.

No. We're not happy at our age because the entire world weighs on our shoulders. That's my theory, at least. Everyone asks us to make a decision, whether those are the personal ones in our lives - how much money to earn, to set aside, whether to fix the roof or reduce our cholesterol - or the macroeconomic killers - what to do about that oil, the national debt, a gridlocked Congress and two never ending wars.

When you're in your 20s, these kind of decisions are someone else's problem. You don't have to worry about your cholesterol or the date of your last mammogram because you're automatically healthy. And while leaping into "a cause" might be your passion, often it's because the guy leading the anti war effort is really, really hot.

Fast forward to old age. Kids are grown. House might be sold. Don't have to worry tuition, home maintenance, or about saving for retirement because you are retired. No boss to get on your case. And as Activist   for the big things like ending global warming or a couple of wars, hey, not your problem, right? You're old!

(I can't wait for this stage, personally.)

Best of all, no expectations.

In earlier studies it was shown that middle aged women, even more than their male counterparts, are way more unhappy and why not? If we're asked to bear the weight of society in middle aged, then women are the ones doing the heavy lifting. We're the ones who deal with the aging parents (been there, done that) and the self-centered teenagers. Our husbands try, but at the end of the day they know someone (a sister, a wife) will do the dirty work. 

And then there are the daily decisions that are just plain wearing. What to have for dinner. What to do about the Visa bill. Dealing with financial aid. The mildew in the shower stall. The expanding waist line and every family member's health and well being.

Now, close your eyes and imagine you're in your seventies in relatively good health. You wake up and do  Flowerboxes  some stretches, meet friends for coffee, maybe play a round of golf or a set of tennis. You might come home to weed the flower boxes or take a nap. A light lunch followed by a walk. Early bird dinner. TV (watch the news with dispassion, comfortable in the knowledge that you're not held responsible) and knitting. Toddle off to bed for some restful sleep.

Not bad, huh?

I say we start now.



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Secret to Happiness:


Excellent idea. Now, if we could just subcontract out all those pesky decisions and responsibilities.

I am turning 50 this year, but unlike the generation before us, I have kids at home and many years of college tuition ahead of me.

And just for the record, Latin makes no damn sense and whatever genius Romance-Language creator who decided that all inanimate objects should be assigned some random-assed gender should be shot.

Ha, Kathy - I hated that gender thing in French, too.

Sarah, you're playing my song. I'll be 46 this year, so I guess this means I have a few years before things start looking up. But the last month or so I've felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and it's not fun. Nothing really tragic, just the everyday crap that gets you down, and the horrific news on the TV.

Ugh. The only thing I can think of to do about it is eat chocolate.

I think it's more that by our age (collectively speaking) we've learned to pick our battles more carefully, consider what truly is important, and have lost the Youthful Ego that gets so many into trouble; at least I know I have....

Two major changes come to my (ageing) mind: one, we've made most of the big life decisions, like which career to pursue, which partner to choose, and there's not a blinking thing we can do to go back and change those decisions; two, with enough experience under our belts, we just don't care about other peoples' opinions of us any more. Nothing is as important as it seemed when we were in our twenties.

What a terrific group of writers you've gathered here!

I heard this news item too--and all I can say is HOORAY!--and heck yeah, let's start now!

Sarah, your lovely scenario looks like retirement--but do you think writers ever retire? Seriously. Do you see yourself *not* putting out books? Phyllis Whitney was working on a book (memoirs) when she died at 103. Poor thing, lol. Mildred Wirt Benson--the greatest of the Nancy Drew writers--was still writing her newspaper column when she died in her, I think, 80's. She'd been flying her plane until the last couple of years too, I believe.

When I turned 50, my husband left, my oldest was in first grade, my twins were still in preschool, I was writing my 4th book and touring with my 3rd. That was the year we'd already decided we didn't need an au pair anymore, because of all my free time.

For the naps alone, I'm eagerly anticipating my 70's. Sarah, save me some yarn and a pair of large knitting needles. I'll be over.

I turn 47 this year. I start school again in the fall and I get to rewrite all the career choices I ever made. I stopped writing a long time ago so I guess from that I have retired. Someday when I actually have a chance to worry about more than how to get the tuition paid and food on the table I will retire from that too. I worry about the world, but I can not fix it from here. I also stopped caring about idiots and their issues. Life is not long enough to ignore a nap or a good book. The family reading contest starts today and I have a stack ready to go. I guess I retired form the rat race a while ago and just didn't realize it until I thought of all the things I don't worry about.

The thing is, Nancy, that I really like writing. In fact, I can't stop. While waiting for my editor to get back to me regarding one book, I started another. I can take a few days off, but before you know it, I'm back at the keyboard.

I've always been a daydreamer. In elementary school it was considered a "serious problem" and I was sent to the principal's office on numerous occasions for staring out the window. The only other person in similar trouble in my class was Martha Chapman who used to read fiction behind her math book in third grade and was PUNISHED for it.

Eventually, Martha left high school to dance in the New York Ballet. I became a writer. So, those impulses we had at age 8 seem to be lasting since she's still teaching dance and I'm still daydreaming.

I would like not to care about sales, though. That would be a "retirement" of sorts.

Do you think those women above would have lived as long as they did without their passions?

Harley - I have a great shawl pattern with large needles for you.

Ah, Sarah. I'm 47 too. My twenties pretty much sucked, though by comparison to now I should've enjoyed them more. I'm really liking my forties, though.

Sarah, we both probably suspect that those passions kept them alive--*really* alive.

Funny about the daydreaming. Before I wrote fiction I was positive I didn't have any imagination. But I look back now and realize I was constantly daydreaming--which is another word for making up stories.

Harley, have you ever met my editor, Linda Marrow? She's at Ballantine now, and before that she was at Pocket for a long time. She was 45 when she had her twins, and now they're four years old. I'm going to let her know that you survived. :D

The "U of Happiness" makes perfect sense. 18-23 year olds take risks, try new things and don't look at the consequences. That is why you send 20 year olds to war, not 35 year olds. The same is true on the other end. You have seen it, done it and know what you can change and what you can not.

This must be 47 day. I'm 47, or ten years older than most of my children's friend's parents. The last time I was covered by "the rule of 80", I could retire when princess one was in college and princess two graduates high school. I should probably not look at retirement that year.

Sarah, I too read other things in class and drove teachers up the wall. One called the principal who sat in class, watched me do the homework for that class, do my other homework, then pull out a book and start reading. The principal already knew each week I had either the top or second to top grade in class. The girl I fought for the highest grade each week is an MD now.

Doodling in class is ok too. One of my friends turned in homework with doodles in the margins. The yearbook has his doodles on the pages. His most recent "doodle" is called "The Princess and the Frog." It was not as big a hit as his boss had hoped. It only made $100 million, or enough to mean there will be another hand drawn movie in about two years.

Dreamer, artist, writer. What a boring place this would be without you.


Cornelia - how come your 20s sucked?

I swear, the forties are not what they used to be in my mother's day. Definitely, they're more like the thirties. So many women are having kids for the first time at later and later ages.

Harley, you act like a 32 yo woman with those little kids around you.

BTW, the study drew no correlation between age, happiness and state of kids.

I am not 70, but I did retire and I love every single day and living in paradise (so. FL). i am a doll maker now, but the Internet (blogs and cams) not TV holds my attention. I can eat all the fresh veggies and fruits (b/c now I have the time to make healthy meals). I go on bus trips (quilt guild shop hops) for the enjoyment of the trip and the company (I don't quilt). This is the best of times, but not the best of the global world setting and my SS does not rise, but my insurance does. Go figure. Not complaining, just enjoying. Blessings, Janet

Sarah, I’m in your age group, going down into the U as if on a rollercoaster. But wait – I think there is one glaring problem with the research. So: people are happy in their 20s, then start sliding down into the U-shaped depression in their 30s, 40s and 50s, then come on up the other side of the U in their 60s toward happiness again in their 70s and 80s? Okay, but what about the people who don’t survive into their 70s? We all know that people who are unhappy and depressed are more likely to get sick, and to die, than their sunnier counterparts. Well, that knocks them off the rollercoaster, doesn’t it? Thus skewing the numbers. Also, you have to be tough to survive into old age – it isn’t for everyone. Only the cream of the crop come up the other side of the U. And don’t think world events don’t disturb old people, just because they’re old. They’ve lived long enough to have started seeing the patterns in human events, repeating themselves in an endless loop. Kind of like a rollercoaster. If you get to know older people, and really listen to them when they talk about the world, you will learn. And if you’re lucky you’ll find out how to make peace with your life and grab some happiness for yourself again. At least, that’s what I’m trying to do – by watching carefully, taking notes and wishing myself, and others in my age group, the best of luck.

I turn 50 in a couple months and the AARP is after me like gangbusters. My doctor gave me a list of three "lovely ladies" who could do a great job with my first colonscopy. I am in full blown menopause and take my HRT like a junkie with her fix. My mother told me 50 is the new 30. I said that was bullshit.

That said, I've started running and feel better than I have in years. My 13 year old daughter is sullen but not overly so and she's a pretty cool kid overall. My husband cooks dinner every night. Life could be worse.

I watched a PBS documentary the other evening where a writer went to his Irish homeland and visited his roots.
He commented that there are very few "old" people there now. In other words character and facial lines are fewer than in the old days.
People's struggles appeared on their faces and the life that they led good and bad were evidence of character.
I fear now that with modern fixes such as Botox we are afraid of life.
Maybe we are afraid of showing the world that we were not good enough to show our "age".
I am closing in on seventy. I fear my face is telling people that I should have suffered more.
I want to lead a more balanced life. I do not need to be supremely happy every moment. I have challenges to deal with everyday. Caring for loved one and hoping we have some good years together for a long time. Ya, that's what I want to show on my face.

Thanks so much for adding Louise Penny to your blog. I just love her books, as well as her own blog. I've also greatly enjoyed Cornelia Read's and Jacqueline Winspear's books. I look forward to getting to know your other new writers through TLC.

I'm 54 and still waiting to see the happiness meter trend upward. Maybe just knowing it's coming will have a great placebo effect.

Shelley - those are excellent points.

I love that so many of you have found ways to glean the best of life at earlier ages.

Can't help thinking of my neighbor, Trish, who has terminal cancer. The other day while she was lying on a couch recovering from yet another round of chemotherapy she spoke about watching, just watching, a butterfly flit from flower to flower outside her window. She said it gave her "pure joy," the kind of which she never got when she was running around doing this and that.

She turned 50 last week. That woman knows how to eek out more life in every minute than most people do in a lifetime.

What an intriguing blog, Sarah. On the upside of the U here, and I can tell it's the upside. Soon we will no longer have any debt (if the real estate market improves some), and life is good. All the kids are settled, for the most part, and (knock wood) everyone is healthy.

My best friend turned 60 in February, and she was momentarily freaked out about it, until we started comparing our grandmothers at that age to us now. What a difference! My grandmother on my dad's side wore orthopedic shoes, no bra (so her boobs were at waist level), housedresses, and a hairnet. No makeup, of course. My mom's mother was a little more fashionable, but still no one's idea of sexy, and neither of them would have hiked or ridden horses at our age, both of which we do.

Truly, 60 is the new 40, or at least, the new 45. I'm loving being healthy and happy, and looking forward to more of it.

Again, I watched a documentary last evening which celebrated Clint Eastwood's legacy in Hollywood.
Being too pretty at an early age he was thrown off a lot in Hollywood later to return to be a super power in Hollywood.
He just turned eighty with no signs of leaving his profession. Good judgment on his part and an uncanny ability to survive in the Hollywood maze he truly is an inspiration.
Money does not drive him, obviously. Creativity is the force. He can teach us that everyday creative juices can rev you up. Happy Birthday to you Clint!

Let me tell you what's wonderful about getting older, and I know I'm a sap for saying so, and I never believed it when other people said it, but I've reached this conclusion: The key to happiness is grandkids. Still enjoying the heck out of my grandson's visit here. Except I don't think I could give up writing, either, so he's going to have to get used to playing in my office. Great blog, Sarah.

Nancy, I am getting assistance from my grandson at the moment, too. Heaven!

I caught just a moment of an NPR article this morning about a young woman who wanted to become an actress, but her mother insisted that she have a back-up plan. "Why don't you become a writer," Mom said.

Steve and I looked at each other and said, simultaneously, "That's the back-up plan?" She might as well tried to become an artist. Ahem.

Only my body was present in my elementary and high school, my mind was occupied with dreaming, reading, dreaming, drawing, and some dreaming.

My grandsons are at the witty and droll stage.
I am old to them as well I should be. I adore them.
There is a little neighbor child who is toddling off to preschool. She is spunky and cute with her backpack and is ready to take on the world.
One of my daughters is a crackup. She makes me laugh. She shard hilarious stories of some of her about to be married friends. Later we talked about youtube videos and laughed ourselves silly.
I guess you take the fun where you can find it. And sometimes it feels good to forget about your age.

I turn 66 in a few weeks and each morning's a thrill.....probably because I've dodged so many bullets.

Not only was Phyliss Whitney writing at 103,as her bookseller I can tell you she was reading over a dozen books each month-----often on writing! Keep learning and you no doubt will be mistaken for a student by the reaper!

Just wanted to say the new design looks great and I'm greatly looking forward to seeing posts by the new Tarts. Like many of you, I'm 47 with kids at home to take care of and an aging parent who just moved from several states away to be near us. I know "caretaker" will be in my job description for many more years. That said, I think happiness is largely a choice (barring huge disasters and chemical imbalances) and I find it helpful to look for the moments of pure joy in each day, such as the butterfly flitting from flower to flower, a hug from my 10-yr-old, or the goofy way my dog capers around when you get out his leash.

I turned 50 last year and have no kids or husband or mortgage or debt. I am hoping to retire or at least quit this job at 58! My childhood has come back to haunt me again so I just started seeing a psychologist this week. I intend to be happy or at least happier in the coming years, time to fix things now.

I get to play with other people's kids and grandkids and that is so much fun.

I was observing myself last night..not a pretty, mentally or physically.
I asked myself where the foolish me went. The one who sailed blithely through life. The one who when I wrote letters I wrote to entertain and have fun.
Then I realized that I need to shake off some of the traits that make a person a fuddy- duddy and enjoy more.
My daughter and I discussed how we think that sometimes we are too self-absorbed trying to always be happy. We are alike. She said family comes first and I agree. Extended family as the people here are on TLC count for a whole lot also.
Gratitude and happiness now kicking in. Thanks.

OMG, Al and Tipper splitting up?? What has the world come to?

I know....40 years.

Is he gay? Or has he been sleeping with some hair legged vegan?

Did they lose a kid? Do you ever recover from that?

I left a fulltime job in 2002 and haven't regretted it for one single second (well, except when I wanted to buy a new car!)

Am writing still, but seriously considering a life of reading, needlepoint, and TV, never having to meet a deadline again or have anything to do "hanging over my head." I'm 54

OH, so happy to learn 60 is the new 40! Whew.

I'm telling you, 60 is interesting. I had this kind of out-there idea, which I presented to Jonathan before we went to a party recently. I said: TOnight, I'm just gonna say whatever I want. I'm not going to try to make sure everyone is happy and entertained.

He said: Don't you just always say what you want?
And I replied--of course not!

Now I'm wondering if its an age thing. (Not that "what I want to say" is all that outrageous.)

And yeah, I should have spent time being happier in my 20's too. I just didn't realize how great it was, and spent it all on ambition and work. It turned out fine, though-so I don't regret any of it!

Hank, you embody the saying! I'm stunned anew every time I realize your age. You seem so much younger.

Not until I was in my late 30's, early 40's did I begin to accept that life is perpetual change, and respect my natural inclination to change. I wouldn't say my 40's and 50's have been easy by any means, with the most difficult, challenging and grief-laden circumstances of my life, but observing and cooperating with change have been really liberating in many ways, and I can see that my gradually increasing happiness has the potential to just grow and grow from here on out. So cool to hear of Phylis Whitney's path!

What I find disturbing, though, is that certain unnamed individuals in the 'older generation' of my family, in their late 70's and early 80's, are incredibly bitter and mean-spirited and downright irrational: my 'in' box is filled on a regular basis with deeply offensive slurs and slanders against our President and every kind of racist hatred. Are these really the same people that had hare-brained adventures in their 20's that they laughed about with all of us, taught me to swim and be an intrepid 'explorer' with their kids, introduced me to the wonders of New Orleans, Disneyland, San Francisco, and California beaches, and persuaded me that I really would have a wonderful time at summer camp when I didn't want to go at age 13?? It really frightens me when they get their hatred wheel turning, and I hope that they are in a tiny minority. They seem to have fallen off the 'U'--either that, or they are happy to be such a**es.

BTW, my comments aren't about honest political disagreement--I am grateful to have friends of many political stripes who help me stretch my understanding of the world and its people. It's the ferocity of mean-spiritedness that shakes me up: like my family's older generation are the dark side of the Greatest Generation or something.

Aw, Karen, thank you! SO lovely of you...xo

And eesh, according to this just in on the wires-- looks like not everyone is happy:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, are separating after 40 years of marriage.

According to an e-mail circulated among the couple's friends and obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday, the Gores said it was "a mutual and mutually supportive decision that we have made together following a process of long and careful consideration."


Hey, Laraine, your comments are very interesting and remind me of an incident that made the news in my city a few months ago -- the director of tourism (yes, the director of tourism) was fired for using his work email to circulate a very offensive cartoon about Mrs. Obama. And this guy was only in his 40s.
I love hearing everyone else's take on aging, moods, hormones, kids, retirement, needlepoint....

A friend sent me this, and somehow it seems appropriate to share:


Those of us of a certain age....

Oh, William, how could you? There goes another icon. Sigh.

Vis a vis the current climate of loud political rhetoric and downright bullying of those with opposing viewpoints: Whatever happened to good manners, polite discussion, and mutual respect? And what happened to the idea that one does not discuss religion or politics in polite company? Maybe because polite company is so hard to come by these days?

I knew mean spirited opinionated people in my younger years.
Sometimes I believe that people do not have a productive creative outlet to make them happy. Frustration sets in and concentration on unhappiness sets in.
I am no expert on aging but I believe taking control of your life and making choices to affect the outcome.
Many times I consider the wisdom of people here on this blog and books that I have read that says it is all about the choice to be happy or not.
Passion about issues can be tempered but a life without passion can kill your spirit and your soul.

With all the comments, it's clear we all need to enjoy each and every day with a positive attitude--no matter what age we are. Thanks for a great blog and lively conversation.

I turn 49 in a few weeks and will be starting grad school in the fall. I never thought that I would be looking at the amount of debt I have at this age and thinking geez, I'm going to have to work another 20 to 25 years till retirement. When I was young I thought retirement would come at 55. Ha, that dream flew out the window the first time I got laid off. Several years later I'm still job hunting. A job with a pension plan would be so nice now days. But overall, live is pretty good.

Hear, hear, Marie! (on taking charge and making your life what you want it to be)

Thanks, Laraine!
All the Best!!

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site